Painful Memory

There are those who say a rivalry can't exist if one team dominates the other.

So, consider the series between Connecticut and Notre Dame in women's college basketball. UConn is 28-5 all-time against the Irish. The Huskies had won 12 consecutive against Notre Dame, including three last season, before losing to the Irish at the 2011 Final Four in Indianapolis.

In the eyes of UConn fans – and the nation - that may have changed things. The images from that defeat remain fresh in the Connecticut consciousness. Skylar Diggins and the Irish celebrating, while Maya Moore walked off the floor in a UConn uniform for the last time.

It's still painful in the Nutmeg State.

Now these two Big East powers are reunited again, Saturday in South Bend (4 p.m., CBS). That 72-63 loss in the national semifinal signaled an abrupt end to what was supposed to be another championship season in Storrs. But it also changed things for this year too.

UConn (12-1, 2-0 Big East) may be ranked No. 2 and Notre Dame may be No. 3, but the Irish (14-1, 2-0) feature the experienced, seasoned roster. The Huskies are young again, still searching for a groove without Moore.

And Notre Dame was the preseason favorite to win the Big East, not the Huskies. UConn coach Geno Auriemma says the rivalry is definitely on – but it has been that way for years, in his opinion.

"Notre Dame has a great team," Auriemma said. "When they are healthy they are the best team with the most offensive balance. No one has more experience than them; they have two fifth-year seniors that are really good, Skylar Diggins is a great player, Natalie Novosel is probably their best player and the kids that came back from last year. They are deep, talented and smart."

Saturday's game truly appears to be a battle of wills. Notre Dame averages over 85 points and the Irish have scored over 90 seven times. UConn prides itself on physical, intimidating defense that takes teams out of their offensive sets. UConn leads the nation in defense by holding opponents to under 43 points a game.

This is the first of at least two meetings this season. Notre Dame comes to Hartford on Feb. 27. But this will always be the first one after that Final Four loss.

"Of course, it's still in the back of our mind," UConn forward Kelly Faris told the Associated Press. "But, if you want to sit there and go into a game thinking, 'OK, we're going to pay you back for last year,' you're going to lose. If that's all you have in your mindset, you're not thinking about the right things.

"We've played them, it feels like 1,000 times, so they know us, we know them. It's going to come down to effort, heart and who is going to be more aggressive."

That's Auriemma's point. It is familiarity and Big East bragging rights that make this a rivalry - despite UConn's dominance.

UConn has already defeated Stanford and Texas A&M, but also lost to Baylor on the road. Does that mean the Huskies are prepared to face this difficult road test?

"The loss at Baylor has nothing to do with the game at Notre Dame," Auriemma said. "We could play the exact same game at Baylor and lose by 20 or win by 15. Comparing Notre Dame and Baylor is comparing two completely different set of animals, their style of play, the fact that it's a league game, how well we know each other, all that stuff.

"The experience of playing on the road in front of a big crowd at Baylor may be a help heading into Saturday but the crowd may be bigger and louder at Notre Dame on Saturday."


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